San Salvador: Travel Guide

san salvador travel guide

San Salvador might not be on everyone's "to do list" when visiting El Salvador, but this capital city has a lot to offer the would be urban explorer. Those willing to venture just outside the capital will find stunning natural beauty, incredible volcanoes, historic Mayan ruins, and some great craft breweries.

San Salvador, and El Salvador as a whole, may still have a bad reputation for violence, but the truth is that the locals are very friendly and generally happy to have visitors. The capital city is well worth a visit and, due to the small size of the country, is a great hub for day trips out into the rest of the country.

What to Do

San Salvador has many museums, churches, and parks to experience within the city, but there are also a number of amazing things that lay just outside the city as well.

National Palace 

national palace san salvador el salvador
The National Palace lit up at night.

This National Palace is a historic icon in El Salvador. Built in 1911 to replace the old national palace that was destroyed by a fire, it was used to house government offices until 1974. It is now used for ceremonial purposes and as a museum to its former use. You can get a guided tour in both English and Spanish.

Cost: $5
Hours: Tue - Thur: 8am - 4pm, Fri - Sat: 10am - 10 pm, Sun: 10am - 6pm

El Rosario Church 

el rosario church san salvador el salvador
The stained glass shines a rainbow of colors across the inside of the church.

El Rosario Church looks like an nondescript concrete building from the outside, but step inside and you will witness the amazing beauty within. Arguably one of the most beautiful contemporary churches in Central America, the arched roof with colorful stained glass spreads an array of rainbow colors across the metal and brick architecture inside.

Cost: $1
Hours: Mon - Fri: 8:30am - 4:30pm

Museo y Biblioteca (Banco Central) 

bank museum san salvador el salvador
Old Salvadorian currency.

Housed in the old Banco Central de Reserva de El Salvador building is the museum of the financial history of El Salvador. The museum is a unique look at the colonial trade of cacao, the different machines and electronics used throughout the history of the building, and a stroll through the vaults to see the varying renditions of the currency used in El Salvador.

Cost: Free
Hours: 9am - noon and 1pm - 5pm

Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador 

cathedral metropolitan san salvador el salvador
The alter within the Metropolitan Cathedral.


The current Cathedral of San Salvador was finished in 1999 and is the third rendition on this historic site. Its white facade gives way to a colorful interior where many come for contemplation and prayer. In the crypt below the cathedral is the tomb of Archbishop Óscar Romero, the fourth archbishop of San Salvador, a popular pilgrimage site for locals.

Cost: Free
Hours: 6am - 1pm and 4pm - 6pm

Railway Museum 

railroad museum san salvador el salvador
One of the many train engines at the Railroad museum.

The Railway Museum is a testament to El Salvador's storied railroad past. Within the museum there are a number of exhibits with train and railroad paraphernalia and signage describing its history. Outside is an old train station and turnaround where there are a few engines and train cars stored.

Cost: $1
Hours: 9am - 5pm

Just Outside Town

San Salvador Volcano 

volcano san salvador el salvador
The carter of Volcano San Salvador

The San Salvador Volcano looms over the capital city and can be seen from many vantage points within San Salvador. Just 23km (14km) from the city center, the drive up the mountain is beautiful with many viewpoints overlooking the valley along the way. The hike to the crater is short and has four vantage points of the crater from the top.

Cost: $2 entrance + $2 parking
Hours: 8am - 5pm

Archeological Sites 

san andres el salvador
Pyramid ruins at San Andres archeological site.

There are two archeological sites that are not far from San Salvador; San Andres and Joya de Ceren. Both are about 40km (25mi) northwest of the city (just on the other side of the volcano), so you could visit both at the same time. They are both pre-Colobian sites that demonstrate the Mayan civilization's furthest reach southward. Joya de Ceren is El Salvador's only UNESCO Heritage site, but it is currently closed for renovation.

Cost: $3
Hours: Tue - Sun: 9am - 4pm

Laguna Botanical Gardens 

laguna botanical gardens el salvador
With my friends at Laguna Botanical Gardens


Laguna Botanical Gardens is a private garden that is open to the public for a small fee. The gardens are located in what was once a volcanic crater just outside of San Salvador, in Antiguo Cuscatlan. Within the gardens you will find many trees and plants from around the world, fish ponds, picnic areas, play areas for children, and a few small food stalls.

Cost: $1.25
Hours: Tue - Sun: 9am - 5:30pm


cadejo beer flight santa tecla el salvador
Beer flight at Cadejo Brewery.


El Salvador has two main craft breweries that are located just outside San Salvador in Santa Tecla. Cadejo and Sivar are both amazing breweries and if you are looking to try some new beers they are definitely worth trying. Cadejo has an indoor bar and patio feel, whereas Sivar is more of an outside patio and yard game type of feel.

Cafe Santa Cruz 

lake ilopango cafe santa cruz el salvador
View of Lake Ilopango from Cafe Santa Cruz.


Cafe Santa Cruz is located on RN3E, southeast of San Salvador, overlooking Lake Ilopango. The Cafe sales a variety of drinks and food, but the real reason to go there is for the view. It sits on a ledge with an amazing view of Lake Ilopango and Volcano San Vicente. It is best to go a bit before sunset, but that is also when it is the busiest.

What to Eat

Like all capitals, San Salvador has an array of both local and international restaurants to meet anyone's tastes and budget. Though when you are in any new place I always recommend that you should try the local cuisine.



pupusa el salvador
Spinach, mushroom, and cheese pupusa. Topped with salsa and curtido.

When it comes to El Salvador, trying local foods undoubtedly means eating pupusas. Pupusas are basically flatbread that are stuffed with beans, cheese, meat, veggies, or any combination of these, then covered by you with salsa and curtido (fermented cabbage). Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador and are found everywhere in the country. They are relatively the same across the board, but some places have more options for filling and, needless to say, some places are just better than others.

While you can find pupusas in many places outside of El Salvador, there is one filling that is exclusive to the country; loroco. A loroco pupusas is stuffed with a mixture of hot gooey quesillo cheese and chopped loroco flower buds.

If you have a car, my recommendation for pupusas is 'Las Veraneras' on Paseo El Carmen in Santa Tecla (west of San Salvador). If you are there on a weekend, the whole street is blocked off and becomes a walking street with small shops and food stands along the road. 

Fried Chicken 

pollo campero el salvador
Possibly my favorite fried chicken ever. Pollo Compero.


When thinking of El Salvador you might never think of eating fried chicken, but you will find it everywhere. Latin fried chicken is so much better than most places you will find fried chicken in the States. My personal favorite is Pollo Campero a fast-food chain with a sit-down restaurant feel. Don Pollo, on the other hand, is the same recipe and is much cheaper, but is a true fast-food, no table restaurant. 

Atol de Elote 

atol de elote san salvador el salvador
This little yellow building in Aniguo Cuscatán sells the best atol de elote.

This creamy sweet corn beverage is found in one form or another all across Central America and is well worth trying. My personal favorite though is located in El Salvador. Also located just outside of San Salvador, in Antiguo Cuscatlán (on the corner of 1 Calle Pte and 1a Ave Norte) is a two-story yellow restaurant that, in my opinion, sells the best tasting atol de elote. On Google Maps it is literally called 'Atol de Elote,' but they also have sweet tamales that are also very good.

Where to Stay

San Salvador is a large capital city and, as such, has a large range of accommodations to choose from. You can find a place to stay at any price point; from $7 hostels to a $200 deluxe room. I stayed with friends while in San Salvador, so I unfortunately can not give any recommendation on where to stay. But whenever I am planning my trips I always use Agoda to reserve my rooms.

How to Get Around

San Salvador itself is pretty spread out over a large area, so unless you are just seeing sites within the Central Historic District you won't be able to walk from place to place. There are a few options for getting around San Salvador though.


By far the cheapest option for transportation around the city is by bus. This of course is also the slowest form of transportation. That being said, San Salvador has an extensive network of buses throughout the city, making it easy to get around. 

Buses run frequently from 5am to 7:30pm daily and cost from $0.30 - $0.35 USD. One of the best ways to find your way around the bus system in San Salvador is with the Moovit app. 


Taxis are easy to find in San Salvador, but most are unmetered. Being unmetered means that you will need to negotiated a fare before getting in the car. Traveling within the city should cost anywhere from $5 - $10 USD during the daytime and will go up at night. Uber also operates within San Salvador with comparable rates to the taxis.

Rental Car

The easiest way to get around is by rental car. Traffic in the city can get very congested, but overall it is easy enough to drive around. A rental car also allows you to easily make day trips to further to reach places and to travel on your own time.

A rental car in El Salvador will cost you around $15+/day USD for the car. You will also need to purchase at least 'Third Party Liability' (~$15/day USD) insurance as well. This is mandatory for all rental cars. Your credit card should cover any other damage insurance that your rental my get, so check with your credit card company before renting.

How to Get There 

pin point location san salvador el salvador


If you are traveling to El Salvador from anywhere but Central America, you will probably arrive by plane. You will arrive at San Salvador International Airport (SAL), which serves all of El Salvador, and is the largest airport in Central America. Being the largest means that you will be able to get a direct flight from many places in the Americas and from a number of airlines.

The airport is located 42km (26mi) southeast of San Salvador. For budget travelers, you can catch bus #138 to the city center for $0.70 USD. A taxi should cost around $25-$30 USD to the city center. There is also many car rental companies stationed at the airport as well. 


If you are traveling from the three surrounding countries (Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua) you can take direct buses from their capitols to San Salvador for $40 USD. You can also bus in from other Central American countries and Mexico; it will take longer and cost more. 

What was your favorite experience in San Salvador?

san salvador travel guide

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